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Vancouver Washington Social Security Disability Law Blog

Cuts to Social Security disability may come as early as 2016

The recent budget battle in Congress highlighted a number of important issues with which our country struggles. Besides health care, immigration and other hot-button topics, however, another important point raised during the debate should be noted for readers of our Vancouver Washington Social Security disability law blog.

The point concerns the solvency ofthe Social Security disability trust fund. This fund, which supports millions of disabled individuals along with their children and spouses, has just about two years left before it starts to run out of money. That means that by this time in 2016, recipients of disability benefits could be subject to a cut of up to 20 percent to their benefits.

Children with disabilities may be eligible for SSI

Vancouver parents with disabled children know how difficult it can be to make ends meet. When a child has a serious disability, bills for hospital and doctor visits, rehabilitation and special education programs can quickly add up. Health insurance may not cover all of these expenses. For low-income parents, these expenses can be overwhelming.

The Social Security Administration pays Supplemental Security Income for disabled children who qualify. To be eligible, the disability must meet certain criteria. It must be expected to last more than a year or to lead to the child's death. The disability can be physical, mental or a combination of both. The disability must severely limit the child's ability to function. The child will not be eligible for SSI if they are working and earning more than a certain amount; for 2014 that amount is $1,070 per month.

Social Security Disability benefits widely misunderstood

In recent years many financial advisers have become skilled at factoring social security retirement benefits into their clients' retirement plans. But not many advisors really understand Social Security Disability benefits, according to a recent news article.

Unlike Social Security retirement benefits, which are payable automatically based on age, Social Security Disability benefits require approval on a case-by-case basis. The Social Security Administration has a very strict standard for defining a qualifying disability. To be eligible for SSDI, the applicant must have an impairment which not only prevents them from working at their previous job, but at any job for which they would otherwise qualify in the national employment market. The impairment must be expected to last at least a year, or to result in the applicant's death. Even after a person is approved for SSDI, Social Security requires periodic reviews to make sure they are still eligible.

Many are thankful for their SSDI benefits

With Thanksgiving Day this week, most Americans will gather with their families or friends to share a traditional dinner and enjoy each other company. And we know many of our current and former clients will offer thanks during their meal for their Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits.

While the application process is difficult and sometimes unpleasant, when that first benefit payment arrives, they recognize how fortunate they are to have obtained the SSDI benefits. They also know how important those payments are in their daily lives, allowing them afford rent, clothing, food, gasoline or helping them cover their other necessary expenses.

Define "problem" within context of SSDI

A new audit from the Social Security Administration's inspector general finds that some administrative law judges (ALJ) who approved benefits for the SSDI program failed to provide a well-supported rationale for making their decision.

The IG examined 275 cases from a 7-year period by judges who had statistically higher than average approval rates. It then had the decisions reviewed by the Office of Appellate Operation’s Division of Quality (DQ), and DQ found that 5 would have been reversed, meaning no award of benefits, 7 would have received lower benefits and 108 would have required remand to the ALJ.

A remand would require an ALJ to review the claimant's file and comply with the requirements to provide a well-supported rationale for approving benefits. 

So?

There are some reports that leave one somewhat puzzled as to the purpose. A recent study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) is such a report. It found that 59,000 veterans who received military retirement payments also received civilian benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for disability and from the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program.

Perhaps the unstated implication of this is fraud and wrongdoing. There must be something wrong if a veteran can collect military retirement benefits, civilian disability benefits from the VA, and SSDI benefits. But is it? At one time, a veteran's retirement income was offset by any VA disability payment. 

Fixing Social Security really is not that difficult

If one were a Martian, dropped into the U.S. Congress and one listened to some of the discussion of ways to repair the Social Security system, one could be forgiven if one developed a sense that this was a Very Difficult Problem, akin to sending a manned space mission to, say, Mars.

But most of that is misdirection and misinformation, often provided with a political purpose of confusing people and making them believe that it is practically impossible to fix the funding issues with both the retirement program and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

How to avoid becoming one of 990,000

To get some idea of how large the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) apparatus is, one can look to the size of the department that handles appeals of SSDI cases. The SSA employees 1,445 administrative law judges. This is larger than the entire federal judiciary, from the district courts up to the Supreme Court.

These ALJs handle the appeals after the SSDI application has gone through two previous reviews and rejections. These judges currently have a backlog of more than 990,000 cases. They are where you go to have a face-to-face hearing on your SSDI application.

Yes, the SSDI application really is that complex

Life, when you develop a disability, becomes much more difficult. Whether it is a very serious condition that could lead to your death within a short time, like mesothelioma or another type of cancer, or if you have a less grievous condition, like a bad back, that causes chronic pain and simply leaves you unable to work, any type of serious disability makes your life much more complex.

The unpleasant irony is that with any of these conditions, just getting through each day can be difficult. Yet, under these conditions, you have to deal with the sometimes overwhelming complexity of trying to obtain Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits.

The danger of a chained-CPI for the disabled

If you depend on Social Security for retirement income, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, or are on military disability, an important part of your benefit is the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA). If you did not have a COLA on your benefit payment, if you live long enough, you would eventually see a 10 or 20 percent cut in the spending power of your income over time.

Even with a low inflation rate, inflation would chip away at the already minimal benefit payments and cause a severe hardship for retired and disabled individuals. Paul Ryan would like to change how the COLA is calculated, using that "savings" to direct more tax money to the Pentagon.

Tucker & Boklage, Attorneys at Law

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